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Nashville theater attack: Police identify hatchet-wielding man, say he had pellet gun

Nashville theater attack: Police identify hatchet-wielding man, say he had pellet gun
Vincente David Montano, 29, used a pellet gun, a hatchet and pepper spray during his attack in a Nashville movie theater before he was shot and killed by police, authorities said. (Metropolitan Nashville Police Department)

Police have identified the man who they said stormed a Nashville movie theater with a hatchet, pepper spray and a pellet gun before he was shot and killed by police Wednesday afternoon.

Although city police officials initially described the assailant as a 51-year-old man armed with a handgun, police later identified him as Vincente David Montano, 29, and said he was carrying a realistic-looking "airsoft pistol."

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Montano was wearing a backpack on his chest and a surgical mask when he entered a screening of the film "Mad Max: Fury Road" shortly after 1 p.m., according to Don Aaron, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department.

Moviegoers fled as soon as Montano began dispersing pepper spray, Aaron said, adding that the man was the only person still in the theater when a Nashville police officer confronted him.

There were only eight people in the theater when Montano began filling the room with pepper spray, Aaron told CNN on Wednesday night.

The Nashville officer, who was flagged down by moviegoers at the scene of a car crash outside the theater, ran in to confront Montano. After a brief exchange of fire, the officer retreated, Aaron said.

A SWAT team entered shortly afterward, flushing Montano to the theater's rear exit, where Nashville police officers shot and killed him.

One moviegoer was struck by the hatchet and suffered a "superficial wound to his shoulder or arm," according to Brian Haas, a spokesman for the Nashville Fire Department. That man and two women were also hit with blasts of pepper spray, according to Haas, who said all three were treated and released.

Shortly after the incident, Aaron said, the assailant had been "tentatively identified" as a 51-year-old white man who lived in the area. Nashville police identified him as Montano several hours later.

The attack took place at the Carmike Hickory 8 theater in the community of Antioch, south of Nashville International Airport.

No motive was revealed, but police said Montano had a history of mental health problems.

"This individual has had significant psychiatric or psychological issues," Aaron said late Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. "He had been committed four times, twice in 2004 and twice in 2007."

Court records show that in 2004, Montano faced charges of resisting arrest and assault on a police officer after an incident in Murfreesboro, about 30 miles outside Nashville. The records do not disclose the outcome of those proceedings.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean released a statement praising first responders for preventing the  tense situation from erupting into chaos.

"I applaud the Metro Police Department for its great work to apprehend the suspect, keep our citizens and visitors safe, and prevent a tragedy," he said. "We have one of the best police forces in the nation, and it showed this afternoon in the way our officers lived up to their very thorough training."

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Aaron said members of the Police Department's bomb squad planned to detonate the contents of the backpack the man was wearing because they were "not comfortable with what they are seeing" inside the bag.

Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson later told reporters that the contents of the bag were designed to resemble a bomb but did not contain anything dangerous. A second backpack, which contained nothing harmful, was also recovered at the theater, Anderson said.

There are eight movie theaters in the Carmike Hickory complex, and rescue officials said they were thankful the injury total was not higher.

"This could have been a lot worse," Haas told reporters.

The attack in Nashville came less than two weeks after a 59-year-old drifter killed two people and injured nine when he unleashed a barrage of gunfire inside a movie theater in Lafayette, La. That gunman killed himself as police closed in.

The incident also occurred in the shadow of the James E. Holmes trial in Colorado. Jurors there are in the process of determining whether Holmes, who carried out one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history inside an Aurora, Colo., movie theater in 2012, should be put to death.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for breaking news.

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